Pope Francis and Fr. Julián Carrón

‘If You Don’t Think Francis is the Cure, You Don’t Grasp the Disease,’ CL Head Says

An interview with Fr. Julián Carrón, by John L. Allen Jr. and Ines San Martin Crux. Pope Francis, the Church on the journey in this ‘epochal change’, and the English edition of Carrón's book, Disarming Beauty.
John L. Allen & Ines San Martin

Although some Catholics, especially the more conservative sort, often find Pope Francis a bit of a shock to the system, the leader of the Church's influential Communion and Liberation movement says that if you don't think this pontiff is the cure, then you don't understand the nature of the disease we're facing in a post-modern, secular world.

Probably better than most, Father Julián Carrón, the successor of the legendary Italian Father Luigi Giussani as leader of the influential Communion and Liberation movement, whose natural base is among more conservative Catholics, understands that Pope Francis can be a shock to the system.

Yet he’s still an unabashed Francis fan, who insists that if you don’t think this pope is the cure, then you don’t understand the disease we’re facing in the post-modern world.

“Sometimes certain gestures of the pope may not be understood because we don’t understand the full implications of what he calls an ‘epochal change’,” Carrón told Crux on Monday.

“It’s like thinking a tumor is a simple case of the flu, so taking chemotherapy would seem too drastic,” he said. “But once you understand the nature of the disease, you realize you’re not going to be able to beat it with aspirin.”

Carrón spoke to Crux at his residence in Milan, among other things about the English release of his book Disarming Beauty about the nature of the Christian “event.”

The changes we’re living through are so radical, so unprecedented, that I get why many people just don’t understand what’s happening or the gestures of Pope Francis,” he said. “But if we don’t understand those gestures now, we will in a time when we see the consequences they’re leading to.

Carrón argued that what’s happened in modernity is that people have lost sight of what it means to be a human being, so the crisis is much deeper than simply the rejection of this or that ethical precept, and that what’s needed now is not so much moral exhortation or theological argument, but the attractive power of a fully Christian life.

Fr. Julián Carrón

“I get that many people are upset and puzzled by the pope, as were people in Jesus’ time by him - especially, let’s remember, the more ‘religious’ people,” he said. “For example, the Pharisees, failing to see the full drama of the human situation facing them, wanted a preacher simply to tell people what to do, to put heavy burdens on them.

“That wasn’t enough to give humanity a new start, and then Jesus arrived and entered the house of Zacchaeus, without calling him a sinning thief, and that could have seemed too weak. Instead, no one ever challenged Zacchaeus the way Jesus did,” Carrón said.

“All those others who condemned his way of life didn’t move him an inch from his position. It was that absolutely gratuitous gesture of Jesus that succeeded where others failed,” he said.

Founded by Giussani in 1954, Communion and Liberation is a lay ecclesial movement within the Catholic Church that’s especially prominent in Italy, but that’s today present in roughly 80 countries around the world. It’s had prominent backers over the years, including emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who celebrated Giussani’s funeral Mass and whose private household is served by women from the movement’s “Memores Domini” group.

Born in Spain and a longtime aide to Giussani, Carrón took over the leadership of Communion and Liberation in 2005 after Giussani’s death.

Far from seeing a rupture between Francis and his immediate predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Carrón insists that Francis is actually the “radicalization” of Benedict.

“He says the same thing, but in a way that it gets across to everyone in a simple way through gestures, without in any sense reducing the density of what Benedict said,” he said.

In essence, Carrón’s book is a synthesis of the vision for Christian life that comes from Giussani, as amplified by each of the last three popes. The key idea is that Christianity is about “disarmed beauty,” meaning a way of life that imposes itself through no power other than its own inherent attractiveness.

“I wanted to get across that the power of the faith is in its beauty, its attractiveness,” Carrón said. “It doesn’t need any other power, any other tools or particular situations, to be resplendent, just like the mountains don’t need anything else to take our breath away.”

Part one of Crux’s conversation with Carrón appears below. Part two will be published tomorrow.

Crux: Is the title Disarming Beauty an explicit response to terrorism and religious violence?

It’s an explicit response to a modality of seeing the faith, trying to begin with what makes it unique. St. Paul once defined what God did in becoming human as “stripping himself” of his divinity, his divine power. Jesus appeared in history stripped of any sort of power, with only the splendor of his truth that emanated from his person, his way of doing things, his way of seeing, his way of relating to others, his mercy, his capacity for embracing others and sharing their lives, and his ability to share the wounds of other people. The entire power of his love for us was conveyed through his “disarmed humanity.”
Disarming Beauty: Essays on Faith, Truth, & Freedom

One of the essays in the book was written immediately after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, in which you say the challenge is to create a “space for real encounter among different proposals of meaning.” Can you explain what you had in mind?

So many people are looking for meaning in their lives, for a reason to go to work, to raise a family, to face reality, and often they don’t find it and try to escape in different ways. The fundamental question is, in a moment in which the basic value for we moderns is liberty, the only possibility of not falling back on force to constrain the freedom of others is to have a space where people can meet each other freely, to share what it is life means to be, what they think it means to live fully. If that doesn’t happen, then the vacuum that leaves behind will keep generating conflicts.

People can’t live without meaning, and if the vacuum persists, we’re going to keep generating people who, sooner or later, will feel the temptation of violence … at home, at work, and, in some cases, ending up in terrorism. The problem is how to respond to the vacuum of meaning we find many times today in society. It’s possible to overcome it only in a free society, in a free space, in which people can meet and make comparisons among the ways in which people choose to live and how they make choices differently.

You say we’re experiencing a ‘profound human crisis.’ Do you think Pope Francis sees that too, and how do you think he’s trying to respond to it?

He’s very conscious that the first question is the nature of the crisis, because it’s often reduced merely to an economic crisis, or a problem of values, but it’s much deeper. It regards what makes us human, the passivity we see in so many young people who don’t seem motivated even to leave the house …

That’s what Giussani called the ‘Chernobyl effect,’ right? It’s as if a kind of radiation has emptied people of meaning.

Right, this emptying out of humanity, which leaves people incapable of really being interested in anything. It’s a problem that has its roots in indifference, in apathy. Too often, we try to respond to it with rules, with procedures, to at least try to limit the violence that’s often born from such indifference. But that only responds to the consequences, it doesn’t get to the roots of the problem. Unless we respond to the real needs of the human person, reawakening people’s capacity to find meaning that makes life livable, it’s inevitable that we won’t be responding to the real nature of the crisis. Its roots are in this reduction of what it means to be human.

That’s the reason why I’m optimistic, because I’m convinced that Christianity can offer its greatest contribution precisely in this situation. Christ began it all by meeting people who looked at him and said, ‘We’ve never seen anyone like that,’ and turned around. There was no alternative to his presence, and that encounter launched the greatest revolution in history. The only question is whether we’ll realize what incredible grace we have as Christians.

How do you see Pope Francis carrying forward this idea of the faith as an experience, rooted in an encounter?

He’s able to get it across in a very simple way, through the gesture he performs, through his attention for the person, through the way in which he speaks to everybody. He gets people to understand in a very simple way, through gestures, in the same way Jesus made himself understood through gestures.

It’s hard to get people to truly grasp all the dimensions of something like immigration, for instance, but when he goes to Lampedusa, he gets everything across in a glance, and it’s impossible not to understand what he’s saying. You feel a desire to understand where that comes from. It’s the same when he comes across someone who’s having problems with work, or who’s in need of mercy. It’s like Jesus, who found himself in front of all the wounds of his time and responded to those wounds.

Yet it would seem that some people don’t understand the pope, or maybe just don’t agree with him. You mentioned Lampedusa … the mayor there, who was famous around the world for her policy of helping refugees, just got trounced in her reelection bid, coming in third.

The changes we’re living through are so radical, so unprecedented, that I get why many people just don’t understand what’s happening or the gestures of Pope Francis. But if we don’t understand those gestures now, we will in a time when we see the consequences they’re leading to.

If we really start to take seriously the problem of immigration, the problem of poverty, the difficulties of so many people who are wounded, who are alone, so many people who need mercy, that will generate a social climate and eventually we’ll see the consequences, in a way we could never have imagined. For example, when he uses that word ‘walls,’ he’s talking about situations that just 10 or 15 years ago would have been unimaginable. I mean, a wall in the heart of Europe just 20 years or so after the fall of the Berlin Wall?

Our capacity to understand [the pope] depends on our capacity to understand the nature of the challenge that’s before us. Sometimes certain gestures of the pope may not be understood because we don’t understand the full implications of what he calls an ‘epochal change.’ It’s like thinking a tumor is a simple case of the flu, so taking chemotherapy would seem too drastic. But once you understand the nature of the disease, you realize you’re not going to be able to beat it with aspirin.

In the book, you glide effortlessly from quoting John Paul II and Benedict to quoting Francis. Often those three popes are set in opposition to one another, but you seem to see a great continuity among them.

I see a great symphony, although each one had to confront different times. That’s what Christianity has always done. Each faced a certain set of historical conditions in which the life of the faith has to develop, and every epoch brings a different set of challenges to which Christianity has to respond in a concrete way. John Paul II dazzled everyone with his capacity to communicate. It seemed like it would be difficult to find anyone like him, and then Benedict arrived and he struck everyone with his intelligence, his capacity for good judgment and to illuminate certain themes in a way nobody else could do.

After Benedict, it once again seemed there would never be anyone else like him. Instead, a pope arrived who, for me, is a radicalization of Benedict. He says the same thing, but in a way that it gets across to everyone in a simple way through gestures, without in any sense reducing the density of what Benedict said. It seems to me that all three went to the bottom of things, they didn’t just stay on the surface but went to the heart of what was really going on in their times.

In that sense, there’s a symphony that impresses even a lot of secular people, which is the capacity the Church seems to have to bring forth something new to confront the new challenges it’s facing. We have a truly clear example in these three popes, each of whom in his historic moment knew how to respond to the challenges of that moment.

You don’t like political labels, but you know that Communion and Liberation has great ‘street cred’ in the Church, especially among more ‘conservative’ Catholics. Some of those folks right now are worried about Pope Francis, thinking that he is precisely ‘reducing’ things, setting aside or playing down traditional doctrines. What can you say to reassure them?

The first thing I’d say is that we have to start by recognizing the real nature of the challenge we’re facing. One can’t understand the full dimensions of what Francis is doing if you don’t grasp the nature of what’s happening, the ‘epochal change.’ If your diagnosis doesn’t take that into account, certain gestures of this pope may not go down well. If you begin to understand the depths of the crisis, however, you’ll broaden your horizons and begin to see certain gestures as a prophetic response to this new situation.

I get that many people are upset and puzzled by the pope, as were people in Jesus’ time by him - especially, let’s remember, the more ‘religious’ people. For example, the Pharisees, failing to see the full drama of the human situation facing them, wanted a preacher simply to tell people what to do, to put heavy burdens on them. That wasn’t enough to give humanity a new start, and then Jesus arrived and entered the house of Zacchaeus, without calling him a sinning thief, and that could have seemed too weak. Instead, no one ever challenged Zacchaeus the way Jesus did just by entering his house. All those others who condemned his way of life didn’t move him an inch from his position. It was that absolutely gratuitous gesture of Jesus that succeeded where others failed.

What’s going to work to change a society like the one we’re living in? It’s got to be the method Jesus used with Zacchaeus. [With Pope Francis], we have to recall the way that many well-off people, sincere religious believers, reacted to Jesus. For them, the way Jesus operated was considered a source of scandal, in the strongest sense of the word, as an obstacle to belief.

Are you saying that those faithful Catholics who criticize Pope Francis, for instance over Amoris Laetitia, haven’t understood what’s at risk in this culture?

I think so. I think what’s missing sometimes is a deep understanding of the human challenge we’re facing. Sometimes [critics] just want [the pope] to repeat certain phrases, certain concepts, but they’re empty for most people and have been for a long time. Or, they want a list of rules to follow, as if that’s going to heal the human person or lead anyone to ‘verify’ the faith in their experience. The problem, and we suffer from it too, is that often we’re not able to transmit faith in the future to our colleagues at work, to our friends. Only if we’re audacious about recognizing the situation, without always feeling the need to defend ourselves, maybe we’ll learn something.

Of course, what worries some people is that when Jesus met Zacchaeus, the point was to get him to change his heart. Today, some worry that the pope, along with some priests and bishops, are engaging in ‘encounter’ without the same expectation of conversion from the errors they’re committing.

Conversion doesn’t depend on the act, it depends on us. When we go to meet a thief, we bring ourselves to that encounter. Jesus had no problem going to the house of Zacchaeus, without explaining all his theology or moral rules. He went because the truth was incarnate in his person. The problem is, what people are meeting when they meet us? If what they meet in you is simply a manual of things to do, they already know that and they’re still not able to do it. But if they find themselves in front of a person who offers love, they’ll start wanting to follow that person and be like them, which is what happened to Jesus.

I suspect many would grant that we can’t start with the rules, but what worries people is whether we’re ever going to get to them at all.

If a person falls in love, at a certain point that happens naturally. When you get married and are really in love, it’s just natural to want to clean the house, to put together a nice lunch, and so on. The problem now is that people aren’t meeting someone for whom it seems to make sense to invest themselves like that. An ethical code isn’t that kind of encounter.

To get concrete, lots of people inspired by Pope Francis today say the Church needs to accompany the LGBT community, for instance, or divorced and civilly remarried believers, and we do it regularly. But what critics would say is, doesn’t that have to involve at some point telling them that their behavior has to change?

I’ll respond with an example. Too often, we think the choices come down to either saying nothing or being ambiguous. I knew a group of couples, families, that involves about 18 to 20 families, and no one is married, all for different reasons, sometimes with understandable reasons. Some of our families involved in Communion and Liberation spent time with them, without saying anything about their ‘irregular’ situation. Over time, they all got married! They found themselves in front of people who were living family life in a way that just couldn’t leave them indifferent. In the end, they all got married not because someone explained the rules or Christian doctrine on marriage, but because they didn’t want to lose what they saw alive in these other families.

In Christianity, the truth has been made flesh. You only understand the full dimensions of this truth made flesh by meeting and watching a witness. The whole Christmas liturgy is about the fullness of God becoming visible. If it hadn’t become visible, we would never have understood it … that’s the great challenge.

It’s useless to ask others if they’re everything they’re supposed to be. The real question is, are we convincing witnesses to the faith? Do we still believe in the disarmed beauty of the faith? A person who’s in love will know what to do, and you fall in love through meeting someone. That’s what made the experience of Jesus a ‘Copernican revolution’ for humanity.


Rod Dreher recently argued that Christians should abandon the culture wars in the West because we’ve already lost, and the most we can hope for is a ‘Benedict option,’ meaning creatively preserving small islands of the faith amid a decaying and hostile culture. You too seem to be saying that we should get past the culture wars, without abandoning those positions, but for a different reason.

Certainly, absolutely. It’s always struck me, the contraposition between trying to make Christianity into a civil religion, on the one hand, and on the other, trying to make it entirely private. To me, it’s like trying to amend the design of God. I ask myself, who would ever have bet that God would begin to reach out to the world by calling Abraham? It was the most unlikely, most confusing, way of going about it anyone could have imagined.

The choice can’t come down to either the culture wars or a Christianity emptied of content, because neither of those options has anything to do with Abraham and salvation history. Abraham was chosen by God to begin introducing into history a new way of living life, that could slowly begin to generate an external reality with the capacity to make like dignified, to make it full.

I imagine that if Abraham were around today, in our minority situation, and he went to God and said, ‘Nobody’s paying any attention to me,’ what would God have said? We know very well what he’d say: ‘That’s why I chose you, to begin posing to reality a presence significant enough, even if no one believes it, that I will make of you a people so numerous that your descendants will be like the stars in the sky.’

When he sent his son into the world, stripped of his divine power to become man, he did the same thing. It’s like St. Paul said, he came to give us the capacity to live life in a new way. That’s what generates a culture. The question for us is whether the situation we’re in today gives us the chance to recover the origins of the design of God.

You seem fairly optimistic that’s still possible.

Yes, absolutely. I’m completely optimistic, because of the nature of the faith itself. I’m an optimist based on the nature of the Christian experience. It doesn’t depend on my reading of things, my diagnosis of the sociological situation. The problem is that to be able to start over again from this absolutely original point of departure, we have to go back to the roots of the faith itself, in what Jesus said and did.

If there’s a case for pessimism, it’s that too many times we’ve reduced Christianity either to a series of values, an ethics, or simply a philosophical discourse. That’s not attractive, it doesn’t have the power to seduce anyone. People don’t feel the attractive force of Christianity. But precisely because the situation we’re living in today is so dramatic, from every point of view, paradoxically it’s easier to get across the novelty of Christianity.

If we look at Europe today, there’s a new generation coming of age that really isn’t invested in the old battles over religion v. secularity, because they’ve been raised in a largely post-religious culture and thus often look on it not with animosity but curiosity. Does that create a new moment for evangelization?

Yes, there’s a new moment. The question is whether Christians can take advantage of this opportunity to understand ourselves what the faith really is, what it means to be Christian, because it ought to interest us and it will interest others. We have to go about that independently of worrying about the numbers, and project ourselves solely to the fullness of the experience that Christ poses in our lives.

I think of an expression Giussani often used, speaking of the faith, he said, “The faith is a present experience, where I have in my own personal experience confirmation of the human fittingness of the faith.” Without that, the faith won’t be able to hold out in a world in which everything says the opposite to us.

So, your strategy for evangelization in the early 21st century is to live the faith in such a way that this ‘experience of confirmation’ comes across, and then gradually to introduce others to this way of life?

When a Christian lives the faith with this kind of joy, with this fulness, it’s evident that when he or she goes to work, or hangs out with their friends, or is in the airport, others will see this novelty in them. If you show up at the factory at 8:00 am and you go onto the work floor and find a colleague who’s singing, embracing you and sharing your weakness and difficulties, you’re going to ask, ‘What is it about you, that you can show up for work singing at 8 in the morning?’

That gets Christianity across much more than lots of other things, than all these ethical arguments, because when you see someone like that, you naturally want to ask, ‘Where does this joy come from? Where does this fullness of life come from?’ People may not immediately think that the ultimate origin of this happiness is called Jesus Christ, that it’s called the faith. But when you start to understand that this stupefying way of living in the real world, so happy, so joyful, is rooted in the faith, they’ll start to get interested.

Christianity, in a phrase, is communicated by living it. Eliot once asked, ‘Where is the life we have lost in living?’ For us, it’s the opposite … we gain life by living in the faith. If that’s not the case, we won’t interest anyone, including ourselves. To put it differently, has the Church failed mankind, or has mankind failed the Church?

We’re not pitching a series of doctrines, but a way of life?

It’s an experience of life.

Pope Francis talks a lot about creating a ‘culture of encounter,’ and of course ‘encounter’ was also a fundamental concept for Giussani. As you look around the church today, what are the examples of a ‘culture of encounter’ that impress you the most?

I’m always impressed with those examples of creating a space for encounter among people who are completely different. For example, we [Communion and Liberation] have here in Milan an after-school program, a center, in which a group of teachers … some of whom belong to the movement, some don’t … offer their free time to help kids with problems in school.

Italians go there, immigrants, members of different religions, mostly Catholics and Muslims, and there you see a space of encounter. They come from very different situations, and they can find there a place where their humanity is reborn.

One time, a kid showed up with a steel blade in his backpack, and under different circumstances he might have ended up as a terrorist. But by spending time with these people, he got rid of all his aggression, and eventually became an official of that operation. That’s the power of encounter.

What about examples outside your own movement?

Well, I don’t know the whole world, of course, but I can give examples. For instance, I move in and out of different parishes in Rome and Milan sometimes, and you can see this spirit of encounter alive in them. I know a priest here in Milan who has a relationship with some prisoners. He’s got an amazing capacity and involved himself in the lives of others, in a way that helps them rebuild their lives.

There’s this experience of APAC in Brazil, this network of jails with no guards and no weapons, and where the rate of recidivism, which is about eighty percent in normal prisons, drops all the way to 15 percent. You might think that’s just an illusion, that what’s really happening is that they’re encouraging criminality. Instead, it’s an example what happens when there’s a real encounter. Everything that gets in the way of true humanity, sooner or later falls away.

For instance, there was a prisoner who escaped from a series of different jails who eventually showed up at one of these, and he didn’t try to escape anymore. There was a judge who was so struck by that story he went to the prison to ask, ‘Why haven’t you tried to escape?’ The prisoner replied, ‘You can’t run away from love.’

Our problem sometimes is that we just don’t believe in certain things anymore. We think virtually any other solution, however violent, is more effective than the power of love.

You’re saying that in the end, our ‘realism’ isn’t actually all that realistic.

That’s clear. We’ve just taken for granted that certain things are illusions, and we’ve cast aside the lone chance of truly penetrating to someone’s heart. Again, this is what makes me an optimist - the faith works!

Like Pope Benedict said years ago, is there still a chance for Christianity today, in this world? He said ‘yes,’ because the heart of the human person needs something that only Christ can give. That capacity to correspond to what people are truly seeking is what will always make it attractive.

You also seem to be saying we have to be audacious about it, to not be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom in this world.

What we can’t have is a reduced Christianity that’s a little ambiguous, thinking that’s the way to be able to encounter anybody. No, we have to live it audaciously, fully, we have to be convinced, with the same audacity of Jesus entering the house of Zacchaeus, without in any way overlooking the things he’d done, but disarmed, responding to what was in his heart. Historically, that’s an absolutely new method. Jesus astonished St. Paul, in the same way he astonishes us.

There’s nothing that challenges the heart of a person more than a gesture like this, a gesture that’s absolutely astonishing.

A key concept for Giussani, which you repeat throughout the book, is that the faith is an ‘event.’ Can you explain what that means and why it’s important?

The faith as an event means that someone’s life changes when they encounter a fact, like what happened to John and Andrew when they met Jesus. You can’t avoid the reality of what’s happened, you can’t undo it. It’s like St. Paul, who was a persecutor of Christians, trying to destroy them, met the living Christ and it revolutionized his thinking.

It’s like that scene in the novel by Manzoni, I promessi sposi … the experience of meeting someone so ready to forgive was so astonishing that it was impossible not to yield to its attractive power. When the cardinal greets the bandit, the latter asks, ‘When will I come back? Even if you refuse to see me, I’ll show up here at your door, obstinately, like a poor beggar needing to see you again.’

That’s the sort of shocking experience that changes a life, and that’s the faith. [Note: The cardinal character in I promessi sposi is believed to have been inspired by Cardinal Federigo Borromeo of Milan, 1564-1631.]

Pope Benedict always said that at the origins of Christianity, it’s not a doctrine, it’s not a teaching, it’s an encounter with Christ. The form of the Christian ‘event’ is this encounter, not in a virtual way or just as a proposal someone makes. No, it’s an encounter so powerful that you don’t want to lose it for the rest of your life.

Is the aim of your book to reawaken a consciousness of this event?

Certainly. The problem is how to get this event across to people. It’s like the experience of love, of falling in love … it doesn’t happen by talking about it, but by actually falling in love.

You write at one point that the purpose of the community, presumably meaning Communion and Liberation but also more generally the Church, is to generate ‘adults in the faith.’ What do you mean by that?

I mean people who are regenerated by participating in the Christian community, in the sense that they have a new capacity to grasp reality, a new capacity to be free in a way differently than before, and a new capacity to transmit a sense of awe to others. If Christianity isn’t able to generate a new kind of person, then it’ll stay detached from their lives.

There’s nothing more decisive in the present moment than the ability to generate adults in the faith, adults who live freely among others and who can testify to the faith not just when they go to church or when they take part in some activity that’s apart from daily life, but in the middle of their work and their lives.
We need people who can get across the newness of the faith in the middle of the world, which invites the question, ‘But where are you getting this newness, this freshness? What’s behind it?’ To be able to respond to that, it will naturally lead people to something bigger and greater.

That’s a real witness to the faith … even if people can’t even identify the name of Christ, just looking at that person makes it impossible not to want to understand what makes them tick. They’ll want to know who the ‘third party’ is, and that’s a witness.

Only a real witness can make visible and tangible the event of the faith … the ability to make the faith seem reasonable to people can only come from a real experience of it, an ‘event.’ That’s what enables one not to be afraid of being misunderstood, and to resist the temptation to reduce Christianity to something else.

Let me ask you something: Why do we think sometimes that for a gratuitous gesture to be understood, it has to be reduced to something else, it has to be less gratuitous? The more gratuitous it is, the more astonishing and captivating, no? We don’t have to reduce things to be understood.

Sometimes we think that for someone who doesn’t have faith, we have to reduce things to be understood. But it’s the other way around - the more a gesture is gratuitous, like forgiving someone for an offense, rather than responding in kind, it will absolutely astonish that person. It’s not that we have to reduce it, take the edge off, to avoid scandal … nobody’s ever scandalized by being forgiven.

In the last line of the book, you write that joy is like a cactus flower. What do you mean?

The faith introduces an attraction into life, which at the same time attracts us to it but also doesn’t leave us alone. Nothing challenges a person more than something that responds to all their expectations in complete fullness. There’s nothing that turns life on its head quite like having all its promises fulfilled! That’s why the faith is like a cactus … it’s beautiful, it draws us in, but it also stings. You can accept it or reject it, but nothing transforms and upsets your life with the same power.

Would it be fair to say that this book is an attempt to express the vision of evangelization that comes from Giussani, and which has been amplified by the last three popes?

To me, the answer is yes.